One random day when I was a senior in high school, I was in the car with my dad having conversations about who-knows-what and just enjoying that we could spend time together. Somehow (probably influenced by my imminent departure to the big, scary realm of the US college system), we started talking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Terrifying, I know. But for me, I felt like this question was particularly difficult because even as a young kid, I never had any ideas. My cousins all had plans, whether or not they stuck to them is irrelevant, but I had nothing. I thought I must be some kind of passion-less, interest-less blob. But that day with my dad, I thought for a split second and sincerely told him, “I want to do what everybody wants to do, I want to make the world a better place.” My dad looked at me for a moment before responding, “Not everybody wants to do that, Marissa.” So here I am, approximately four years later, and my foundation is still holding strong. But embracing a passion is only one part of feeling fulfilled. That direction must be accompanied with actionable steps to consciously embrace what brings me joy and incorporate those decisions into my everyday life. In order to make choices that bring me joy, I must first reflect on what things will do that.
In line with the discovery of my passion for social and environmental justice, I have come to fully accept that I want my job to be engulfed in my passion. I want to take pride in my work while feeling like it has a meaningful, worthwhile impact. Miller Center’s Student Fellowship has allowed me to work with a social enterprise through the Catholic Sisters, which has given me a spectacular example of what this type of work could look like. During the fellowship, even on days when my motivation was dwindling or when nothing I was doing seemed significant, the Sisters always maintained unshakable positivity. They were amazing people to work with. Their generosity and effort always served as a reminder of the purpose that our work had. After a while, I started to notice that it was the little moments of success, when the light went off in their eyes because something we said finally clicked or when one person exclaimed that she understood so she excitedly began helping us explain it to her fellow Sisters. Though I know not all working relationships will operate this way, having the Sisters express their gratitude so openly and joyfully really kept me confident in the direction we were all working. With confidence in the direction that my passion presents, I now consider the working environments that will be most conducive to my emotional and mental well-being. I have found that project-based work allows me to be more intentional with my energy and it also provides milestones for me as I work towards a foreseeable end goal. The validation of fully accomplishing something keeps me motivated to produce quality work. Though I know that I can deal with ambiguity, and sometimes even enjoy it, I know that I get the most satisfaction from a day of work when I have a clear plan and I am able to accomplish everything on my predetermined list. Therefore, in my work life, though I do not want constant rigidity, I do want to have enough structure that I can develop and stick to plans for myself. Along the same lines, I know that I appreciate having a routine, and I definitely need to feel like I have a home base. A job that required me to constantly travel would not fit either of those things, but I think perhaps having some opportunities to travel would be a really good way for me to maintain motivation.
Beyond this overarching work structure, there are a few things that this fellowship has really helped me recognize. First, I know that I want to be able to deeply connect with people, specifically the people that I hope to advocate for. Throughout my work with the Sisters, we all worked to develop personal connections despite the added hardships that an online placement presented. I was able to accomplish this goal to some extent, but not to the levels that I would consider ideal. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way, but in-person connection brings me much more joy than online interactions do. Second, I really enjoy having different spaces dedicated to different activities because I am not particularly adept at compartmentalizing. I have a hard time leaving important things in one section of my mind. I can force myself to do it, but it does not come naturally. Doing work for school, the fellowship, and my jobs all in the same chair, at the same desk, on the same computer continues to present significant challenges for me. To feel fully joyful in my career, I think I will need to find a job that allows me to connect with people face-face, requires me to leave my home, and allows for a healthy work/life balance.
Even with all of these ideas for what my work life after college will look like, I recognize that COVID-19 has greatly impacted established working norms. My first job out of college, and any number of jobs after that, very well might be virtual. As such, if I do end up working remotely, I will need to take steps to adapt my ideals to that situation. For example, I foresee the need to set aside a specific space in my home for work. Having that environment even partially separate from the rest of my space will help me find the healthy work/life balance that may be even more important in this scenario. Additionally, I will endeavor to remove distance as a barrier to connection. To do this, I will try to set aside time within calls to get to know people and form those important connections even if we are not able to meet in person.
Finally, my Miller Center Fellowship has transformed how I think about my passions and the impact that I can have. When people say that they want to make the world better, they often get shut down by reminders of the scale of their impact. But the thing is, the impact will almost never be instantaneous and may not even seem profound in the moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, it is nice to get validation from seeing obvious impact, and it will probably be hard sometimes to work without clearly seeing the fruits of my labor. But I think that if I can keep this understanding at the forefront of my journey, I will always be able to go back and remember that the positive effect I can have might ripple out through other people, maybe even over generations. Coming to the fellowship has helped me envision a way to bridge the worlds of what I want to do and how I might actually joyfully go about achieving it.
Written by Marissa Boylan, Student Fellow